Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Goldwater Institute: Arizona Lags Behind 'Google Government' Trend

Goldwater Institute calls for transparency of state financial transactions

Remember $800 toilet seats? Imagine if you could Google down to the penny how your tax dollars are being spent. Today the Goldwater Institute released a new report calling for increased transparency in state budgeting by requiring government agencies to begin posting all financial transactions in an easily searchable online database.

"Technology exists to make government spending more transparent than ever. There is no excuse for leaving citizens in the dark about how government is spending our tax dollars," says Byron Schlomach, Ph.D, economist and author of Piercing the Fog: A Call for Greater Transparency in State and Local Government. "In these tough financial times more access to government spending records is critical to addressing our state's budget crisis."

Arizona makes state and local spending information available to the public in broad categories, but few details are readily available. Federal matching funds-about 45 percent of Arizona's state spending-are also a mystery since the money passes through executive agencies with little legislative oversight. Arizona also has a complex maze of debt reporting. As a result, it is difficult to know how much government actually costs taxpayers and exactly what taxpayers get for their money.

Dr. Schlomach suggests that Arizona's spending database should make as many details available as possible. The database should include information like the amount of individual payments made to businesses, what the payments were for, and to which program or budget categories the payments were assigned. Arizona does have an online database of state contracts, but contracts represent only a small fraction of state spending.

Much of this information for federal spending is already available online at, a concept originally supported by Senators Barack Obama and John McCain. "If two people as far apart as Obama and McCain can work together to make federal spending available online, policymakers from all perspectives in Arizona should be able to embrace the idea," continued Dr. Schlomach. Several states (Virginia, for example) and local governments throughout the country have also started posting their financial transactions online, but none of those efforts are in Arizona.

Government transparency is at the very heart of the principles supported by our founding fathers. Thomas Jefferson wrote, "We might hope to see the finances of the Union as clear and intelligible as a merchant's books, so that every member of Congress and every man of any mind in the Union should be able to comprehend them, to investigate abuses, and consequently to control them."

Piercing the Fog: A Call for Greater Transparency in State and Local Government is available online or by calling (602) 462-5000.

The Goldwater Institute is a research and litigation organization whose work is made possible by the generosity of its supporters. To support the Institute's work, please click here to make a tax-deductible contribution.

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